The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 25, 2013

State DNR chief says gun, ammo sales up; control issue misguided

CHARLESTON — If gun buyers are to be put to heightened background checks, West Virginia Natural Resources Director Frank Jezioro says boozers perhaps ought to be subject to the same pre-purchase investigations.

After all, Jezioro reasoned, alcohol figures in deadly highway crashes and is a known factor in domestic disputes that end in violence.

Besides, the director said Thursday, banning semi-automatic rifles and limiting the size of clips in efforts to avert firearm violence serve no practical purpose and only make millions of law-abiding gun owners feel like criminals.

In the same interview, Jezioro said he expects West Virginia to reap a bonanza a year from now when all the numbers are in on the Pittman-Robertson Act, considering the dramatic upswing in firearm and ammunition sales amid fear that the second Amendment will be compromised by Congress and the Obama administration.

Already, on Capitol Hill, anti-gun senators are pushing legislation that would either ban the ownership of so-called “assault rifles” outright, or limit the capacity of clips to no more than 10 rounds. The frenzy was ignited by the slayings of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December.

“You can change a clip simply by pushing a button on the side of the gun,” Jezioro said.

“That clip falls out and you stick another one in. Probably 2 seconds.

“I seriously think we’re putting too much emphasis on the gun and not enough emphasis on the individual that’s doing the shooting — the shooter, the killer. We have to figure out a way to identify these people and, when we identify them, do something about it. Identify them before they get a gun.”

Outlawing specific types of firearms — such as reviving the ban on semi-automatic rifles as in 1994 — is no answer to mass violence, Jezioro said.

“If you limit the firearm, and the person is simply of the mind that they want to kill as many people as they can, they’re going to find a way, whether it’s with a bomb, or run over them in a crowd, or whatever,” the DNR director said.

“Especially in Newtown — and others — when the shooter is willing to die, they become like a suicide bomber, and they’re extremely hard to stop because they’re willing to give up their life to accomplish this deed of murdering innocent people.”

Jezioro said a more practical approach is to improve mental health awareness and treatment so that signs of disorder are detected in time.

“How can we identify these people?” he asked.

“Can it be done in grade school? Do we see signs? Do we realize there’s something wrong and not get these people help? That’s where it has to start. Identify the people that have these traits or characteristics that may lead them to turn to some sort of mass murder.”

Gun talk has not only generated sales at shops but an outcry from such groups as the National Rifle Association that further restrictions would penalize millions of law-abiding gun owners in reaction to a violent few.

“That’s the fallacy of the whole damn thing, when you’re talking about banning this gun, or banning the ammunition,” Jezioro said.

“Explain this to me, how a guy who has made up his mind that he’s going to kill a bunch of people and he knows that’s wrong. That’s murder. Why would he be concerned about breaking the law of having an illegal gun or a clip with too many shells in it? That makes no sense.”

In reality, he said, such regulations would frustrate law-abiding citizens who enjoy target shooting, when, in fact, no one can prevent murderers from violent episodes with laws.

“You can’t eliminate them,” he said. “They’re always going to be there.

“Maybe a gun is a convenient tool for them. But if that convenience is taken away from them, they’ll find other methods. We know that a whole lot of domestic violence we have in this country is caused by alcohol. We know that a whole lot of drunk drivers are out there on the highways and they kill people every year.

“But there’s no attempt to make people register when they go down to buy a fifth of whiskey, or do a background check to see if they’ve had a DUI.”

The jury is out on the size of a windfall West Virginia can expect under the federal Pittman-Robertson Act, which collects an 11 percent excise tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition, and turns it over to the states via the Department of Interior.

Allocation is based on the number of hunting licenses sold in each state.

A spot check found that ammo inventories are depleted out of fear that President Obama will use executive orders and rally supporters in Congress to crack down on private gun owners.

“Dealers are telling us they just can’t get it (ammo) from the warehouses,” Jezioro said.

“Manufacturers aren’t putting it out fast enough. It’s created quite a phenomenon.”

And that covers a wide array of ammo, from .223 to the simple .22-caliber rounds, he noted.

Such sales spiral upward quickly when any effort comes to either impose more restrictions or, as some have urged, a higher tax to discourage sales.

“What that does, of course, is generate a panic among law-abiding people out there,” Jezioro said.

“They rush out to buy all they can and put it away.”

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